The acting Garda commissioner yesterday defended the reopening of Stepaside Garda Station, following accusations that it was a political stroke delivered by Transport, Tourism and Sport Minister Shane Ross.
Dónall Ó Cualáin was appearing before the Public Accounts Committee, which had requested him to give evidence on the failure to publish a report into the reopening of six stations, which had been in the Programme for Government.
A number of committee members questioned the criteria by which Stepaside had been selected for reopening and queried whether there had been any instructions to the gardaí from the Department of Justice on the matter.
A total of 139 stations had been closed between 2011 and 2014 throughout the country, generating major protest in some affected areas. Mr Ross, while an opposition TD, advocated loudly to have Stepaside reopened.
Mr Ó Cualáin said that the “high-level criteria” used in selecting stations for reopening included a “rural, urban and Dublin” dimension. He said that only four stations in the Dublin area came up for consideration and out of those, Stepaside was selected in an interim report completed last June. Under further questioning, he said Rush in North Co Dublin was also among the six proposed.
He denied that there had been any influence from the Government on the report.
“I’m not aware that anybody brought any pressure to bear,” he told the committee.
Mr Ó Cualáin said that following the closure of 139 stations, there are now more than 500 remaining in the State. Sixty of the stations shut down had since been sold by the Office of Public Works and none of them were considered for re-opening. The report only looked at 70 stations with a view to possible reopening.
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald asked why an announcement was made about the reopening of Stepaside while there was nothing about Rush. “I think it’s disgraceful that political cherry-picking of Garda decisions happens,” she said.
Mr Ó Cualáin said he had nothing to do with decisions made by Government.
The committee was told the Department of Justice is refusing to publish the interim report, claiming it will do so when a final report on the matter is completed.
A number of committee members expressed dissatisfaction on how the matter had been handled. Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells said the Stepaside decision is “going to cause huge anger in the rest of the country, especially in rural Ireland where 139 stations were closed or scaled down to buzzer boxes and at the same time they see pictures of the smiley head of Shane Ross holding up a poster with his local councillor saying, ‘I’ve got you Stepaside reopened’.”
The reference was to a publicity photo for Shane Ross at Stepaside last June when the reopening was announced.
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